does this toy spark joy?

I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet has heard of Marie Kondo’s Netflix show  ‘Tidying Up’ and KonMari method at this point, and with the New Year at least half of my friends have posted on social media about sorting through a mountain of clothes to find what sparks joy. For families with kids, though, the biggest mountain of Stuff in their home is likely to be toys. In a few episodes of ‘Tidying Up,’ Marie tackles kid toys with the same strategy as every other type of clutter - dump it in a big pile and find what sparks joy for the kids. I have to be honest, I winced throughout each of the family episodes. As a nanny and former daycare teacher, I can’t tell you how many playrooms, nurseries, classrooms and kid bedrooms I’ve organized. Decluttering and organizing using the KonMari method sets parents up for failure because it treats toys and kid items like any other possession in the house, when they’re really a lot more complicated. 

Image: A large pile of toddler toys

Image: A large pile of toddler toys

Here are a few decluttering rules that will make the process much easier on everyone:

Kids’ toys are adults’ responsibility.

In the KonMari method, kids participate in the decluttering process and decide for themselves which toys “spark joy.” It’s a nice idea, but for young children it’s just not developmentally appropriate. A huge pile of toys is overwhelming and they will want to start playing (or dumping toys on the floor) immediately. Toddlers and preschoolers also will choose to keep whatever they’re immediately interested in, not understanding the permanence of discarding the rest. And finally, it’s up to adults to make sure kids have a balanced variety of toys for different types of play - gross motor and fine motor, art and literacy, dramatic and constructive, etc. If you’d like to include your kids in the decluttering process, do it once you’ve already sorted and purged. For example, you might show them a few stuffed animals and ask them to choose which ones to give away, or engage them in picking books to put in your neighborhood's Little Free Library.

Image: Baby toys sorted in bins

Image: Baby toys sorted in bins

Sort toys by use, not ownership.

Marie is adamant that belongings should be sorted and separated by each family member, but that just doesn’t work for growing children and larger households. Other than special stuffed animals, I prefer to combine all toys in a central storage area and pull out the materials at the right age range for each child as they develop. This is the first step in a toy rotation system, which will get it’s own whole post soon. But in the meantime, try finding a central toy storage area, like a closet or basement shelving, and only pull out what the kids are interested in using. Start sorting toys into storage boxes and try to narrow down the categories as much as you can - so instead of a big bin of “baby toys” have several small ones labeled “teethers,” “stroller toys,” “play mats,” etc.

Image: Bins of toy trains

Image: Bins of toy trains

What’s visible is available, what’s forbidden should be out of reach. 

You’ll notice that I didn’t just suggest a toy box or a playroom bookshelf. “Out of sight, out of mind” applies even more to kids than adults and the converse is equally true. It’s best to store the bulk of toys out of sight and reach of kids so that you don’t end up with a) everything in a pile on the floor or b) having to say no over and over. At the same time, toys are at their most appealing when they’re neatly set out in plain view, not hidden away in bins, or dumped in the bottom of a toy box. For inspiration, check out Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies - both suggest low open shelves with the available toys for the day set out by adults. You’ll be surprised how engaged kids can be when they have just a few appealing toys instead of an overwhelming mess.

Image: Shelves of toddler toys

Image: Shelves of toddler toys